Journalistic objectivity - does it preclude all judgement?


This seems absurd to me. My position would be that journalists should try to objective with regards to different segments of their audience. But if all are in agreement about a particular matter (& the journalists themselves do not have any reason to believe it is wrong) I don’t see any reason at all to refrain from being judgemental.

I should note that I am unclear of the reliability of the above source (I saw it linked on Drudge). It would seem that the guy himself agrees that some judgement would be allowed, as he says that the WTC was not a legitimate target. So I’m unsure if he was being inconsistent or quoted out of context.

Looking at this from a somewhat different angle, Izzy, I fail to see why the folks at the site you linked are mad at Westin. Is he supposed to argue that the Pentagon was not a “legitimate” terrorist target, so as to prove he is an “American first”?

I think he has every right in addressing a journalism school event to state his opinion pro or con, or withhold an opinion as he has done. It would be professional also for he and Cokie to go on the air with an opinion segment relating to the matter. If the people can show that Westin’s opinions on the matter are slanting news coverage, that’s another story. But I didn’t see that claim.

As a former broadcast reporter and someone who’s heard numerous opinions on this subject from people inside and outside the media, I believe the only truly “objective” people are dead. What counts in news coverage (not commentary) is attaining fairness - struggling for balance and making it as difficult as possible for someone hearing or reading a news story to tell which way the reporter is leaning personally.
I could care less if Westin sympathizes with bin Laden, as long as he runs a professional news organization.

Well, journalists typically feel that you need to be objective in any issue where there’s likely to be controversy. You can declare yourself against serial killers, for instance, because no one’s exactly going to argue for their rights. You can’t declare yourself pro-life or pro-choice because then it becomes impossible for you to cover a story about abortion objectively. Not that the journalist doesn’t keep his or her own opinions – of course they do. They just don’t talk about them in public.

Likewise no one but a terrorist would have considered the World Trade Center a legitimate target. But I’ve seen the opinion expressed in, for example, the French press, that if you believe you are war with the United States, the Pentagon as military headquarters becomes a legitimate target.

Without knowing the reporter at all, I’m guessing like most people, he considers the attack on the Pentagon unfair, but doesn’t want to alienate that portion of his readers who don’t. And I respect that. Objectivity is critical to journalism, which can’t function without a certain amount of credibility and distance.

Ultimately, the idea is to leave judgement up to reader. The journalist’s job is just to present different points of view, and sort out fact from ficition.


I don’t know about the specific example of the Pentagon (The way I look at it, it is a legitimate military target - to the extent that you feel that a war against the US is justified to begin with. But as I don’t feel such a war is justified, I would consider those killings to be atrocities anyway.) But he seemed to be propounding a general rule:

And he is not just withholding his opinion - he is claiming that it is a journalistic duty to do so.

I’m not sure it would slant coverage - I imagine not, but many people find it unpleasant to have atrocities suffered by their people described in such non-judgemental terms. Of course, there’s people all over the world celebrating - what can you do, but you hope for more from your own news organizations.


Well I guess that would depend on whether it is indeed true that there is a significant portion of the readership that believes that the attack on the Pentagon was justified. I would suggest that there is not.

As to the propriety of taking a stand, it’s not as though Westin behaves as a news editor or anchor with daily involvement in the nuts and bolts of presenting a newscast. I can see why he’s bound to be criticized no matter what he does - airing an opinion or failing to adhere to the “correct” one.

I think I’m basically in agreement with you, Izzy, as long as you’re not suggesting Westin needs to come out and make clear that the Pentagon was not a legitimate military target.

And of course, steering a plane full of helpless civilians into a military target isn’t legitimate.

Not at all. just that he is wrong to imply that a journalist cannot take this position.

Interestingly, he has apologized for his comments, acording to the Drudge Report